01.03.13Alan Harris

2013 Challenge: How Can You Save Water?

Save Water with Vermicomposting 2Saving Water with Vermicomposting: the view is bottom of the upper/working tray and the top of a tray where the worms hang out when not munching down on old leftovers and other garbage.

Last month, I was reminded in the EPA’s Greenversations post, All I Want for Christmas is…Some Water Saving Tips; there are many indirect ways to reduce water consumption. Since water is intertwined with energy and agriculture, saving water comes in many shapes and sizes. The water saving tip that inspired this post was about composting food scraps.

In the summer of 2012 I was amazed and disturbed when for the second time in a single day I was emptying the kitchen garbage AND we recycle…or so I thought. We fill up our recycle bin with milk jugs, orange juice bottles and the occasional bottle of margarita mixer. So, what was causing the kitchen garbage to fill up so quickly? Junk mail, egg shells, prepped produce (melon rinds, banana peels, potato peelings, etc.) and leftovers from the fridge which didn’t get eaten before the green bug of a different kind took over, were all major contributors to the garbage can.

As a child I grew up with composting in the backyard, so I knew most of what we were putting in the trash stream could be recycled. My mother still has a compost bin and when she joins us for dinner we send her home with all the produce prep…for that meal. But since she only comes over a couple of nights a week there were a lot of food scraps being thrown away.

Drawing on my childhood experience, I decided it was time to start our own composting operation and began researching viable options. I soon discovered vermicomposting (worms) and bought a Worm Factory. Yes, W-O-R-M-S as in Red Wigglers or more specifically Eisenia foetida. Thanks to my Amazon Prime account, my Worm Factory arrived two days later and all my problems were solved…or so I thought.

When a vermicomposting system is first set up it can only take a handful of scraps a week! Clearly this was not going to be a standalone solution, so I added a standard composting bin and started shredding the junk mail to add to the compostable material. However, the amount of shredded junk mail quickly exceeded the capacity of the compost bin. The very small garden on the side of the house was getting a little weedy so two weeks worth of shredded junk mail covered by a few layers of newspaper under a layer of shredded leaves made a very cheap and effective weed barrier. Another two weeks of shredded junk mail made for nice packing material for fragile items placed under the Christmas Tree.

As I learned more about the benefits of vermicomposting (improves organic content; adds nutrients and microorganisms, improves water retention, etc.) I decided to add worm tubes to the Rose Garden. While the tubes will not consume a large amount of compostable material the improved nutrient, aeration and root depth for the roses should result in less supplemental watering and synthetic fertilizer while increasing the quality and quantity of buds.

How does composting save water and benefit the environment?

  • Composing eliminates a large percentage of material that would normally be sent down the garbage disposal, which uses water and sends the smashed food to the waste water stream for treatment.
  • Soils with compost incorporated require less fertilizer and do a better job of retaining moisture so less supplemental water is required.
  • Most leftovers from meals (except for meat, dairy products, citrus and oils) are scraped into the compost bin instead of being tossed in the garbage to be hauled off to a landfill which in turns reduces the production of methane and leachate formulation in the landfills.

Tell us how you plan to save water in 2013.

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Alan Harris

Alan Harris is a water management pioneer. With roots in landscape architecture, Alan has worked with irrigation throughout his career experimenting with hydrozones and a variety of high efficiency irrigation systems. Now, over thirty years in the landscape industry, Alan continues to stay apprised of the latest technology even in a sales leadership capacity as our Director of Sales Operations and Regional Sales Leader for our landscape maintenance division. In addition to his contributions to this blog, Alan keeps his hand in water management as a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.

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